Nobel Committee members under investigation

The world’s most prestigious prize for achievements in science, arts, and merits in the search for peace was once created by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite. Now the Nobel Prize itself has become a symbolic bombshell, as more and more facts about questionable circumstances surrounding the Prize Committee’s policy of choosing annual candidates and recipients come to light.

A Stockholm district attorney has just ordered an investigation in connection with several trips of Nobel Prize Committee members to China. A recent Swedish Radio research had revealed that Chinese officials had paid all costs for air travel and lodging of the delegates and had openly expressed interest in paving the way for possible Chinese Nobel Prize candidates.

The report led the Swedish justice authorities to consider corruption charges. The Stockholm prosecutor told Swedish Radio that a decision was depending on the outcome of the ongoing probe.

But there is more:

Justice authorities are also determined to examine activities of the Astra Zeneca pharmaceutical company in connection with this year’s awarding of the Nobel Prize for medicine. One half of the prize went to German scientist Harald zur Hausen for his discovery of the human papilloma virus HPV, a main factor in causing cervical cancer.  

This irreproachable scientific feat is overshadowed by the fact that one of the members of the Nobel Prize committee, Bo Angelin, is also a member of Astra Zeneca’s board of directors. The company owns the patents for two vaccines that are targeting the HP virus in order to prevent cervical cancer. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that Angelin voted for zur Hausen. When confronted with this, Angelin said it had not occurred to him that Astra Zeneca might profit from awarding the discovery with the Nobel Prize.

Astra Zeneca, by the way, is one of the sponsors of the Nobel Foundation’s media activities. And true to the motto ‘pecunia non olet’ – money doesn’t smell bad – the foundation also accepts sponsoring funds from the American company Honeywell, a major manufacturer of high-technology components for missiles and nuclear weapons.

Two members of the Nobel Foundation, Gunnar Öqvist and Hans Jörnwall, said that after hearing these facts about Honeywell on Swedish Radio they thought it would be inappropriate to be sponsored by such a company. It seems hard to believe that members of the Nobel Foundation should not have been aware of the product scale of one of its main sponsors. Statistics show that on the list of the world’s leading manufacturers of military materials Honeywell ranks at number fifteen.

While this may not interest Swedish justice authorities, it may well contribute to the tarnishing of what is still considered the world’s most honorable award. The Stockholm district attorney’s scrutiny of the China trips prompted a comment from Claes Sandgren, chairman of the Swedish Institute to Combat Corruptive Practices. Interviewed by Swedish Radio, Sandgren had this to say:

“You have to remember that the prestige of the Nobel Prize requires the existence of a firm foundation of trust in the Prize Committee’s integrity. Therefore I find it welcome that the prosecutor gets to the bottom of this matter.”

Hopefully there will be results before the awarding of next year’s Prizes.

Reporter: Bill Schiller